I left all these comforts behind the next day and drove to Puntas, where a northwestern swell had completely changed the mind-set of the beachgoers. As surfers describe it, the sea was "going off." Head-high waves curled themselves into tubes at the break line, the better to be shredded by Rincón’s surfing elite. I rented a board, paddled out, and immediately got steamrollered. And then again. And again. Sensing a pattern, I beat a retreat.
That evening I went for sundowners at María’s Beach, around the point from Antonio’s. I sat on the turquoise-painted deck of a bar called Calypso and stared at the sea. I started chatting with a couple from New Jersey who’d brought their 18-month-old daughter with them for her first trip to the island. "I’ve been coming to Rincón for years," the man told me. "I proposed to my wife here."
Out on the break, someone rose up on the lip of a curling wave and chased down the black smooth face, silhouetted against a flaming red sea. A trio of young surfers marched wearily out of the white water, boards under their arms. Three girls were changing out of the back of a beat-up hatchback, their faces wide with wonderment as they swapped stories of what had just happened on the horizon. The sound system blared reggae as the moon eased toward the ragged bank of clouds that sprawled across the sky. I clinked Coronas with the couple from New Jersey and turned to watch the next line of waves build and crest. The swell was working, the breeze was kind, the fading day was fine. It wasn’t much, but in Rincón, it was all we needed.
Jeff Wise is a Travel + Leisure contributing editor.